The US has imposed visa restrictions on Cuban officials who are part of a government syndicate accused of exploiting doctors sent on Havana’s overseas medical missions.
The officials, said to work under instructions of President Raul Castro administration, subject the health workers to exploitative and coercive labour practices from which they fraudulently profit up to Sh720 billion ($7.2 billion) a year.
These practices include requiring long work hours without rest, meagre wages, unsafe housing, and restricted movement, according to the State Department.
The regime has also withheld passports and closely watched some doctors outside of work.
“Profiting from the work of the Cuban doctors has been the decades-long practice of the Castros, and it continues today, “a statement issued by the department on Monday reads in part.
“We are imposing visa restrictions on Cuban officials responsible under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a) (3)(C).”
About 50,000 Cuban healthcare professionals are currently working abroad in more than 60 countries in what is deemed the best medical service in the world exported by the communist government ostensibly to improve access to care and health indicators in developing countries.
Kenya is one of the beneficiaries having received 100 specialist medics last year from the Caribbean country despite protests from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU).
KMPDU Secretary-General Ouma Oluga had said bringing in the Cuban doctors is an unnecessary expenditure that will cost the country more than Sh2 billion per year without the additional expenses of security, transport, housing and food by the county governments.
The US said they have first-hand accounts of abuses these health workers experience as participants in the foreign missions, with reports indicating that some had been trafficked against their will.
“The US State Department has documented indicators of human trafficking in Cuba’s overseas medical missions each year since the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report including in the 2019 TIP report and we remain deeply concerned about these abuses,” they said.
Dr Tatiana Carballo, who worked in Cuba’s medical missions programme in Venezuela for seven years and in Brazil, told the US that they only earned between 10 and 15 percent of what the foreign governments paid them.
She late left the programme, putting herself and her family at risk.
In addition to torturous, non- compensated working hours, the Cuban regime compels some of them to use medical care as a political tool by providing care in exchange for pledges of loyalty, the State Department says.
They US condemned the practice saying that any health program that coerces, endangers, and exploits its own practitioners is fundamentally flawed.
“We call on governments that currently engage with Cuba’s overseas medical programs to ensure safeguards against labor abuse and exploitation,” said the statement.
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